New pool schematic

This schematic shows how a new Belmont Beach Aquatic Center would be configured.

A new, smaller design for the Belmont Beach Aquatic Center — one expected to pass muster at the state Coastal Commission — is ready to go to Long Beach's Planning Commission this month.

The new design puts everything outside, and enhances the diving facility to the point where it could host the 2028 Olympics diving competitions, according to a memo from acting City Manager Tom Modica to the City Council. The new facility would cost about $85 million to build, compared to $145 million for the original design.

The 1960s-era Belmont Olympic Plaza Pool was closed in 2013 and torn down in 2014 after it was declared at risk in case of an earthquake. The temporary pool opened in December 2013 on a portion of an adjacent parking lot.

A planning and design process culminated in May 2017 with City Council approval of the plans and Environmental Impact Statement. But the proposal stalled at the Coastal Commission level, never making it to a hearing.

In the new proposal more emphasis on recreation, elimination of a spherical cover and moving the entire complex back up the beach all were designed to address what Coastal Commission staff said were flaws in the initial design.

This design would keep the current "temporary" Belmont Outdoor Pool with upgrades and a permanent showers and lockers building. A second 50-meter pool will be added to complement the current 50-meter by 25-meter pool. Conversations continue whether the new pool will be 25 yards or 25 meters wide.

"I love it," Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said of the design. The pool site is in the Third District.

"It addresses sea level rise issues, and I think it fits into the community better," she added. "It's something that will pass Coastal, it's something we can afford and it's something that addresses the questions of some of my colleagues regarding the recreational, community component."

Debates about the first design included talk about the new diving well — proponents lobbied hard to have the diving facility indoors. That and other factors increased the height of the building significantly. Under the new design, the diving complex has been enhanced to Olympic standards, but it will be outside along with everything else.

"The Olympics organizing committee told us it wouldn't even be considered (for diving competition) unless it was outside," Price said. "I know there were reasons for wanting it inside, but that was the primary reason the building was so high, and that was a real sticking point."

There would be room to add temporary seating for 10,000 spectators should the city convince Olympic organizers to bring diving to Long Beach. Several other 2028 Olympic events already are slated to take place here.

But, to convince the Coastal Commission the complex is not designed solely for competitions, the recreational components have been enhanced, Modica said.

"To ensure the Project is not exclusively a competitive facility, the Project team reviewed options to enhance the size and features of the recreational area," the memo says. "The modified design includes water components specific for play, including a vortex pool that circulates water similar to a whirlpool, a zip-line, cascading waterfalls, splash pads, fountains and an open family gathering space. A small concession area has also been included directly adjacent to the family gathering lawn and recreational pools."

Modica noted that many of the changes have been made after discussions with Coastal Commission staff and, while approval ultimately comes from the Coastal Commission itself, meeting staff recommendations is a giant step forward.

Because the design is drastically different from the original, the entire approval process will be redone. The Planning Commission will be asked to approve the design and an amendment to the Local Coastal Plan. If those approvals are made, the project will go to the City Council in January, and the Coastal Commission in February, when its meeting will be in Long Beach.

Even with approvals in place, the aquatic center still will have challenges. The city set aside about $61.5 million over three years from Tidelands oil revenue before the price of oil dropped significantly. No more money has been added for several years.

"Now we have a project that is much more realistic," Price said. "When we have the approvals, we can use some of the methods of financing and fundraising we've been researching."

With an estimated cost of $85 million, that leaves a $23.5 million shortfall, plus a 10 percent contingency.

"Pending Project approvals, the City will continue to pursue various funding opportunities, including, but not limited to, fundraising efforts, grants and engaging the LA 2028 Olympic organizing committee," the memo says.

If the permitting process goes as planned, and the extra money is found, construction could begin as soon as summer 2021 (final design and the construction contract process will take about a year), the memo said. That would allow completion in early 2023.

NOTE: This story was updated to include comments from Councilwoman Suzie Price.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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